You're here: Home / What we do / Publication archive / The Globe / Issue 2 2007 & 1 2007 / Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages

Carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages

26 scientists from 15 countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, to assess the carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages. The Working Group reviewed the epidemiological published work on the possible association between alcohol consumption and cancer. Studies have consistently shown that regular alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk for cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and oesophagus.

Daily consumption of around 50g of alcohol increases the risk for these cancers by two to three times, compared with the risk in non-drinkers. Effects of drinking and smoking seem to be multiplicative. Populations deficient in aldehyde dehydrogenase run much higher risks for oesophageal cancer.

The evidence is strong that the consumption of alcohol is an independent risk factor for primary liver cancer. The effect of alcohol consumption on the risk for liver cancer is difficult to quantify since cirrhosis and other liver diseases often occur before the cancer and patients can have reduced their alcohol consumption when diagnosed with cirrhosis.

More than 100 epidemiological studies that assessed the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women consistently found an increased risk with increasing alcohol intake. Analysis of 53 studies on more than 58,000 women with breast cancer showed that daily consumption of about 50g of alcohol is associated with a relative risk of about 1:5 compared with that in non-drinkers. Even at regular consumption of 18g per day the relative risk is significantly increased.

Studies show evidence for an increased risk of about 1:4 for colorectal cancer with regular consumption of about 50 g of alcohol per day, compared with that in nondrinkers. It appears similar for colon and rectal cancer. The evidence points to no increase in risk for renal-cell cancer with increasing alcohol consumption. In fact in several studies, an inverse trend was seen in both men and women. An inverse association or no association between alcohol consumption and non-Hodgkin lymphoma – most studies showed a lower risk in drinkers than in non-drinkers.

Alcohol consumption might be associated with an increased risk for cancers of the lung and stomach, but it could not be ruled out that this could be confounded by smoking and dietary habits.

Synopsis of a report prepared by Robert Baan, Kurt Straif, Yann Grosse, Béatrice Secretan, Fatiha El Ghissassi, Véronique Bouvard, Andrea Altieri, Vincent Cogliano, on behalf of the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group.Policy Watch WHO